A Cromwell Adventure: Part 13 – Who wrote Thomas Cromwell’s Poor Law Draft?

Yesterday, I received a message asking about Thomas Cromwell. I was waiting to collect my sons from college, and my phone buzzed. A Tom Crumel chat? Of course! But instead, the messenger was asking about a link she had just seen, claiming that Anne Boleyn wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536, and because of this, Cromwell concocted lies to destroy her.

Readers, I laughed out loud when I read this. I probably looked crazy with my windows down on a hot summery afternoon, laughing to myself. Then I remembered why my messenger was confused, because this assertion comes from a recently released book. It has been a long week, and I have been frantic to get stock into my bookstores for Christmas, and the publishers are sending books by the thousands (the book in question is not one of them). I did not watch the video that came with this claim, but I did read the link, discussing the need to promote women in government. (It is a worthy claim, for Britain’s current political state is grotesque. I live in a country run by a woman, and we are better for it.) I know the book in question which makes these claims, and I have checked the book’s sources, and these claims do not match up with what I have read about Thomas Cromwell creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. That is not unusual in itself, for this story is interesting and is based on difficult evidence. The trouble is, the suggestion that new evidence has surfaced does not ring true, only that evidence has been interpreted… differently.

So, who wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536?

Tudor Poor Law is not a fun read. Essentially, it was believed the poor were idle, lazy beggars and vagabonds who were poor due to their own behaviour.[1] Many in (conservative) government tend to think the same way today, but in 1535, thoughts on better ways to deal with the poor were coming to life in England. Cromwell had been in parliament when the law last changed – the Vagabonds Act of 1531 (22 Henry VIII c.12). The law was a harsh one; rather than helping the poor, they were to continue to be punished. But this law change, the first in almost 150 years, saw the chance for beggars to become licensed by their local Justice of the Peace. Licensed beggars could to appeal to the JPs of their district for relief. However, punishments for vagrancy stayed in place.[2]

The Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 (27 Hen VIII c. 25) is unique for a number of reasons. Cromwell passed the law in the House of Commons that stated that “sturdy vagabonds” had to be put to work.[3] The constables, mayors, JPs, sheriffs and anyone in control of a district/parish had to look after their own poor. The poor were not simply punished for being poor, and the men in power would be punished if they did not aid beggars. Taxes were not levied to cover these costs, as taxes were always unpopular, and a number other important changes in England were already causing disharmony. Collections were organised through a common box, to pay for people to be put to work, for the sick to be helped so they could recover and find work, and those who could not work were not left to beg. The poor were to stay within their own district/parish, and in return, they could receive help. There were still harsh punishments in place for those who refused to abide by these rules, but this was the birth of real aid for the poor.

But this is not the real point of the claim that Anne Boleyn actually wrote up this law. What passed through parliament was Cromwell’s work. But, what Cromwell initially presented to parliament in February 1536 was far from what the law became.[4] Cromwell presented a far more ambitious plan, a law that would tackle poverty right to the root. This plan suggested that the poor were not idle, instead, they had come to their circumstances by more than simply bad choices. Sadly, precious little of Cromwell’s work survived his attainder, so what was specifically said in parliament is not known. What is known is that Cromwell strongly believed in the law he presented to parliament; he made certain King Henry attended the Commons when he put forth the law to the House, as a way of displaying the support he had from the king for this legislation.[5] Parliament’s nine-week session had been delayed by almost six months, so when Cromwell presented this law change, it was already underway in terms of firm planning. But the Act that passed in the House of Commons was a watered-down, rewritten version of the initial plan.[6] Even Henry’s appearance could not get the law to pass, as the Act was so costly. Cromwell essentially pushed for what he could get from the House of Commons. King Henry and Cromwell were not simply tyrants doing their own bidding; the government had the right to push back on law changes and did so at their discretion.

It is the original plan, just a draft, which causes the question of who wrote this revolutionary plan.

The draft, BL MS Royal 18 CVI (which took me forever to view on this side of the planet),[7] is a curiosity forgotten by time. As a draft, it is not listed in the official Letters of Papers of the Royal Manuscripts in the British Library, but it does exist. It was first uncovered by German Georg Schanz and mentioned in his book Englische Handelspolitik (English Trade Policy) in 1881.[8] Draft 18CVI is a 66-page document, written in basic handwriting, double-sided. The handwriting does not look like the fine handwriting of a clerk of the period, and the draft suggests it was written by one individual, but not in a formal setting.[9] Whoever wrote 18CVI had an intimate knowledge of the needs of the people, the needs of the country, the possibilities for job creation, the numbers of staff required, the costs, everything. It was not a plan of forming a utopian suggestion – this was a draft written up by someone who understood the needs of the poor and how to help them. Bringing a draft like this to Cromwell was a wise move, for he had grown up in a common home (though not the poor blacksmith’s son that fiction gives us),[10] had been to prison very young, and fell upon the hardest of times when he left the French army in Italy in the early 1500s.[11] Cromwell was a man who had been to the bottom and now sat at the top.

Draft 18CVI goes into fine detail – those who could had to report for work starting Easter 1537, though to Michelmas 1540, the first period that Cromwell set out for works to begin.[12] Those who could work had jobs planned out, works Cromwell knew needed to be done in England, as seen in his list of remembrances that still survive. Jobs would be created, such as making roads, digging sewers, repairing ports, jobs whose results would benefit the population. The workers would be paid a fair wage, along with meat and drink, and a clothing allowance they would earn. Salaries were already set out for those overseeing the projects. The costs of this new welfare state were set out as well; six forms of tax would cover the costs; ecclesiastical dignitaries would be taxed, then the temporal lords and laymen, taxed on different rates depending on their land values and moveables.[13] Doctors would be arranged for the sick and injured; medicine, beds, food and warm fires would be provided for those who needed them. Children between 5 -14 could be taken and apprenticed in jobs, but only those over 12 would be whipped for failure to work. All people had the chance to reform, with a three-strike system in place for those who failed to live up to expectations. One punishment for failure to work was to burn the ball of a man’s right hand in public.[14] Others included whipping and jail time for those unable to provide a good reason for not working.

Draft 18CVI broke down the costs involved, the men needed, the dates, the figures, the projects, everything for such an enormous plan. Whoever wrote 18CVI had a huge amount of official paperwork at their disposal. My general opinion is that someone working for Cromwell wrote this, as they would have access to his paperwork in his royal apartments as Secretary of State, the king’s chief minister, Vicegerent of Spirituals (head of the church under the king), along with his papers in his capacity as Master of the Rolls (keeper of England’s records). Cromwell believed in the reform of the Poor Law, could see how it would work, and how much it would cost.[15] The problem was that this parliamentary session, finally free of the King’s Great Matter, had much work to do. The immense Dissolution of the Monasteries was underway, and 10 years of experience with sporadic dissolutions gave Cromwell an insight into what was going to happen; many more people were about to become homeless, jobless, begging to survive when their monastic house closed. Also, the dissolutions meant that land previously unavailable would suddenly belong to the king, which was about to upset the feudal system in which land was still owned, bought and sold. Tensions were already high among the rich and noble men passing laws in parliament.[16] It was the right policy put to the wrong session. The 1536 parliament oversaw the new Act of Succession, the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act, the See of Rome Act and the Tithe Act (which was only repealed in 2018). An enormous change such as creating genuine care for the poor of England was a costly plan. This plan did not benefit the men voting for the Act and it was put to the vote at a time where nothing was certain, and the upheaval of religion affected everyone.

But who wrote draft 18CVI?

Enter William Marshall as the lead suspect. One of Cromwell’s agents, Marshall was an extreme reformist with an interest in the regulation of the monasteries. Marshall was a translator with a licence to print. He is not a well-known man, but his works between 1533 – 1537 leave a detailed story. In April 1534, Marshall sent Cromwell books on destroying Rome’s authority, and begging for money, as he often had none to live on or to print his books. Cromwell must have paid him, for Marshall printed three books in 1534. But in 1535, Marshall printed a book entitled The Forme and maner of subuention of helpyng of pore people, deuysed and practyced in the cytie of Hypres in Flaunders, whiche forme is autorised by the Emperour, and approued by the facultie of diuinite in Paris.[17] The book is dedicated to Anne Boleyn, and it is suggested that Marshall had met with Anne, probably through Cromwell. The book is a translation of work in Ypres, of the systems planned and being implemented in the Low Countries in the late 1520s. Many of the initial ideas which appear in draft 18CVI also appear in this translation. Cromwell must have been fond of Marshall’s work, as he then paid £34, the highest sum of the time for printing, for Marshall to translate and print The Defense of Peace, and scholars have argued Bishop Fisher himself had a copy for several days before burning it prior to his execution.[18] Marshall also printed several translations of Erasmus, Joye, Luther, and a book on idolatry and destroying relics, a book which caused much alarm in 1535, just as draft 18CVI was being created. The Images of a verye Chrysten bysshop, and of a counterfayte bysshop shocked many, including Thomas Audley, the country’s new Lord Chancellor and dear ally to Cromwell. Cromwell allowed the book to be published and did not seek to have Marshall punished for it, despite the book’s extreme Lutheran views.[19]

It is possible that Marshall wrote 18CVI, for he made the translation of the Flanders plan for Poor Laws. It is possible that Cromwell had Marshall write out the draft based on the Marshall’s translation work, and had another agent provide the relevant figures. It is unlikely that Cromwell wrote the draft himself; Cromwell had largely given up writing in a neat style by 1534, as he didn’t have the time. It is possible that a group of Cromwell agents got together to discuss and create 18CVI. Anyone of Cromwell’s army of clerks could have written the repetitive draft for his master, or for another man on their master’s behalf.

Back to one detail – Marshall’s translation of Poor Laws was dedicated to Anne Boleyn. It was common to dedicate a book to the monarchs reigning at the date of printing. Had Anne talked with Marshall about his translations? Maybe. Had Anne read these translations about Poor Laws or idolatry? Maybe. Anne had access to anything she wanted, and with several dozen of Marshall’s books in existence in London, maybe Anne Boleyn discussed these issues with Marshall.

What is known is that Cromwell and Anne loathed one another. They had an equal enthusiasm for the Reformation, which kept their mutual distaste peaceful until 1535.[20] Anne is known to have expressed her dislike of the dissolutions to Cromwell, both to his face and behind his back, and it is recorded that Anne mentioned helping the poor with proceeds of dissolutions.[21] I suppose it was easier to yell at the “commoner” than the king about such issues. There is no doubt Anne was well educated on the issues she discussed. There is no doubt that Anne mounted a challenge in April 1536, to wrestle power over the Reformation away from Cromwell and his allies. Anne did have her chaplain preach at the king and Cromwell, denouncing their behaviour before the entire congregation.[22] Anne’s champions Latimer and Alenius both told Elizabeth I of how her mother was angry the dissolutions of the monasteries.[23] Anne was said to have harassed men who came to see her, men who ran monastic houses, to make them pay for education. After Anne’s death, there was an increase in monks with university degrees.[24] Thomas Cranmer was away from court at the time of Anne’s power play after the parliament session, and wrote to Cromwell, asking what was going on, as Anne had seemed to jump into action in early 1536. Anne certainly did have powerful allies, a comfortable position that allowed her to advance her opinions, and access to information to help her make her case.

What is also known was that Marshall did not need anyone to give him ideas of Poor Laws. Marshall had read extensively, had travelled and met many Lutherans. Cromwell had unique access to all the fine details held in draft 18CVI, and personal knowledge of the realities of being poor. After Cromwell had Valor Ecclesiasticus completed in January 1535 (though some papers didn’t arrive until as late as September), Cromwell knew exactly the state of England’s people, he knew his population and how many were suffering.[25] Cromwell had already been planning Valor Ecclesiasticus and what might be done about England’s people for a year before the papers were finished by his inspectors. The Marshall translations came to Cromwell at the same time as Valor Ecclesiasticus, and draft 18CVI appears to have been ready to go through parliament by October 1535, only to suffer the parliamentary delay. William Marshall certainly didn’t do the math required to get the Act into parliament, and he had no access to the figures needed without Cromwell’s express permission. Marshall had no place in parliament, couldn’t present anything, and nor did he play any role in what eventually came into law, which was the creation of votes and debates in the House of Commons. In fact, there is nothing but suggestions made by Georg Schanz in 1881 that William Marshall was a strong candidate as the author, followed by a more cautious suggestion by Geoffrey Elton in The Economic History Review in 1953.[26]

So to suggest Anne wrote draft 18CVI, and either tried to present it or have Marshall present her work to Cromwell or parliament on her behalf, has no basis.  Also, Anne creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 as a result of her ideas doesn’t have any basis. The law that was pushed through was a compromise made by the all-male parliament (God, progress on that score has been very slow indeed).

What is a certainty is that Cromwell didn’t make up lies and kill Anne was a result of this legislation. In truth, Cromwell had seemed to run out of patience with Anne a year earlier. Anne’s marriage to King Henry had taken a huge toll on England, and the work levels Cromwell faced were so vast, he slept very rarely and worked himself into a life-threatening illness by 1534. Crucially, by the time that draft 18CVI was completed in autumn of 1535, Cromwell was already receiving letters from Stephen Gardiner in France, talking about rumours that Anne was an adulterer.[27] Lutheran and pro-Anne supporter Alexander Alenius heard of these rumours and letters, and was in London as a guest of Cromwell and Cranmer when the rumours started to circle the English court. Cromwell, claims Alenius, had told the king of these French rumours before Christmas 1535,[28] and the barrage of rumours and slander soon began behind Anne’s back. By February 1536, Chapuys was already writing to Lady Mary, assuring her that her position would soon improve.[29] Jane Seymour had been slid in place, now under the advisement of Sir Nicholas Carew, and Anne’s ladies-in-waiting were waiting and listening.[30] Anne had argued with many men at court over their greed and their cash-grab of the dissolution of the monasteries. By the time Cromwell and Anne were openly arguing,[31] her downfall was already months in the planning. While Anne’s downfall can appear swift, the gossipers and the cowardly underminers of the court seemed to have already pounced on Anne’s position after her miscarriage in January 1536.[32] While the tales of the what/where/when/how/why of Anne’s downfall timeline can vary between reports, Cromwell’s dislike of Anne began long before the Parliament sitting in 1536. (If you want solid information about Anne Boleyn’s life, read anything by Claire Ridgway).

Thomas Cromwell almost certainly engineered Anne Boleyn’s downfall. Whether Henry knew her adultery charges were false remains largely unknown, and there is little to suggest he cared too much about the truth when it came to trials. While Anne Boleyn sat on the throne, Cromwell had been working hard to justify her as the queen, and to make her daughter a legitimate royal heir. Cromwell became the chief minister to the king, had much control in parliament and he was the Vicegerent, controlling the church in its entirety. But Cromwell was still a commoner; not even Sir Thomas Cromwell for all his work.[33] Anne arguing over the monastery funds (which Henry wanted, not Cromwell) needed to stop so Cromwell could continue the cause. An important fact to note is the monastery dissolutions were not required for a country following the Reformation.[34] That was Henry’s grab for power.

Cromwell was no saint, and even I, as an ardent Cromwell lover, will say what he did to Anne was wrong. But I definitely don’t see any evidence that Cromwell killed Anne because she wrote the legislation of the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. While Anne was doing all she could with weakened power in 1536, this law was not one of hers. No time period in history has been kind to women, and the 1530s wasn’t kind of anyone at all. As it was, the 1536 Act didn’t work,[35] it fell over swiftly, and no aid was rolled out, with the country split into the Pilgrimage of Grace by October 1536. It was not until the late 1590s that any real Poor Laws came into effect, and they too were weak.

I would gladly be corrected to say Anne Boleyn wrote draft 18CVI if the evidence proved it. It would be wonderful to see women’s plans and ideas being implemented in powerful ways. The time period was not filled with stupid women; women had plans of their own, but men weren’t listening (they still aren’t). I would support the idea that Anne was trying to push parliamentary reform if there was any proof of this, but I haven’t seen it. What has been offered in the book that inspired this whole question did not offer me a new source to check. I would gladly update this if that changed, and I could read primary sources showing the truth. Anne had power, but not in parliament, and by the time the Poor Laws went through parliament, Anne was already losing favour. Anne Boleyn did not die because she tried to push Poor Laws through the government. Anne was killed for a lot of unjustified reasons; she died unfairly, needlessly, callously, but it wasn’t because she wrote 18CVI.

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PS – I have no desire to argue, denigrate other work, or have a point to prove. I am always happy to accept corrections, as I only care about facts, because it makes fiction writing far more interesting. I also didn’t write this to promote my own books, as I have a firm character in my books who writes Cromwell’s drafts for him. This article pushes no agenda on my behalf.

 

[1] Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1948

[2] Parliamentary Records 1536 22 Henry VIII c.12

[3] Parliamentary Records 1536 27 Hen VIII c. 25

[4] Parliamentary Records 1536 27 Hen VIII c. 25

[5] Parliamentary Records 1536 (28 Hen. 8)

[6] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[7] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[8] G. Schanz, Englische Handelspolitik gegen Ende des Miittelalters (Leipzig, 1881)

[9] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[10] State Papers 60/6 f.6, LP 8 no.11

[11] The novels of Matteo Bandello Bishop of Agen now first done into English prose and verse. J. Payne 1890

[12] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[13] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[14] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[15] British Library MS Royal 18 C VI

[16] Ives, Genesis of the Statue of Uses

[17] STC 26119

[18] LP 523 vol.9

[19] LP vol. 9, letter 358, 13 September 1535

[20] Calendar of State Papers Spain June 1535 no. 170

[21] Calendar of State Papers Spain June 1535 no. 170

[22] Ives, Anne Boleyn, 2005, p309

[23] Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth I 1558-1559, no. 1303, 527, 532

[24] Dowling, William Latymer’s Chronickille of Anne Bulleyne

[25] Robinson, The Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535 as Evidence of Agrarian Output

[26] Elton, The Economic History Review, 1953, p65

[27] Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth I 1558-1559, no. 1303, 527, 532

[28] Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth I 1558-1559, no. 1303, 527, 532

[29] Spanish Calendar 24 Feb 1536, 5 ii no.55 at 123

[30] Ives, Anne Boleyn, 2005, p332

[31] Spanish Calendar, 6 June 1536, 5 no.61

[32] LP x 284

[33] MacCulloch, Cromwell, p317

[34] Lutherus, Martinus (1521). On Monastic Vows – De votis monasticis

[35] Slack, The English Poor Law 1531-1782 p59

Celebrate the release of Thomas Cromwell Part three with two free Kindle books this week only

NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE is officially available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle/Kindle app on all devices. To celebrate release day, the first two installments of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS and SHAKING THE THRONE are free to download on Amazon from October 28 to November 1, inclusive.* No need to have a Kindle or be a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, as long as you download the free Kindle app, you can read for free on any device you like.

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS covers the story of Thomas Cromwell and Nicòla Frescobaldi through the early Reformation and the King’s Great Matter between 1529 – 1533.

Click here to read more about FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS

Click here to download Book One for free

SHAKING THE THRONE covers the bloody change in fortunes for Anne Boleyn as Thomas Cromwell and Nicòla Frescobaldi plot a queen’s downfall, killing many in the process from 1533 – 1536.

Click here to read more about SHAKING THE THRONE

Click here to download Book Two for free

NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE covers the final years of Thomas Cromwell’s reign in England as he and Nicòletta Frescobaldi try to find a new wife for King Henry between 1537 – 1540. Follow Cromwell, Frescobaldi, Cranmer, Wyatt, the Seymour brother, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Bishop Gardiner,  Sadler, Wriothesley, Rich and more as they race to either end, or save, Cromwell’s life.

Check out links to major characters on this site, and more Cromwell Adventure posts will be popping up here in the coming days.

*all links are for Amazon US, but promo is running on all Amazon sites worldwide. Sale runs 00:01 October 28 until 23:59 November 1, PST.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: “Louis XIV: The Real King of Versailles” by Josephine Wilkinson

Louis XIV’s story has all the ingredients of a Dumas classic: legendary beginnings, beguiling women, court intrigue, a mysterious prisoner in an iron mask, lavish court entertainments, the scandal of a mistress who was immersed in the dark arts, and a central character who is handsome and romantic, but with a frighteningly dark side to his character.

Louis believed himself to be semidivine. His self-identification as the Sun King, which was reflected in iconography of the sun god, Apollo, influenced every aspect of Louis’s life: his political philosophy, his wars, and his relationships with courtiers and subjects.

As a military strategist, Louis’s capacity was debatable, but he was an astute politician who led his country to the heights of sophistication and power – and then had the misfortune to live long enough to see it all crumble away. As the sun began to set upon this most glorious of reigns, it brought a gathering darkness filled with the anguish of dead heirs, threatened borders, and a populace that was dangerously dependent upon – but greatly distanced from – its king.

Cover and blurb via Amberley

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I will be honest; when I received a copy of this book, I was taking on a subject in which I knew zero… literally nothing. My French court history extends of Catherine Medici and…. that’s it. Versailles is gorgeous, and there’s recently been a tv series by that name (didn’t watch, never a good place to start accuracy wise) and Louis was the king who put the man in the iron mask… right?  But Josephine Wilkinson has proven to me multiple times she produces quality books, so I dived in to learn about the French.

Little Louis was born in 1638, a miracle gift from God, as his parents had suffered so many stillbirths before they got their heir, and the little dauphin took the crown at age four, ruled by a council instead of Queen Anne. It was great to learn about a royal heir who had a good relationship with his mother, how they were close and affectionate, instead of being raised by strangers. Louis also grew up with governesses and a tutor which formed a close group around the boy, giving him friendship a budding king would be grateful to have. With his mother at his side, Louis was king as she negotiated the end of the Thirty Years’ War and fostered a fixation that ruling was a divine absolute right of Louis’.

By 13, Louis was old enough to rule himself and took on financial changes in the court. While he was in love with a girl, he was supposed to marry his cousin Mary Theresa, which he did in 1660, age 22. His cousin was the daughter to King Felipe of Spain, who was freshly dead, and Louis never got a dowry paid to him, giving Louis an excuse  to invade the Spanish Netherlands. This was a love Louis continued with – war. Over the years, Loius invaded and battled in all directions for his country, always believing he was doing the right thing. The French court about Louis was a vivid mixture of friends, ministers and lovers, all brought together by Dr. Wilkinson.

The book suggests Louis took his role as a king very seriously; he considered him an absolute ruler and France was in his hands. Over his 72 years as king, Louis managed his huge country, and an almost impossible amount of foreign policy and the origins of French colonies around the world. Louis was an absolute monarch, ruling France with total power, while extending France’s influence in every direction.

Everyone knows of the beauty of Versailles, the sun, and all of France would orbit around their Sun King. I had details coming at me in all directions while reading this book, a whole new area for me to explore. Married for 23 years to Maria Theresa, they had six children, only one making it to adulthood. However, Louis had countless mistresses and well over a dozen illegitimate children, though a few handfuls of them were legitimised as they grew. Louis took a second wife, Françoise d’Aubigné, and either he got too old, or he really cared for this woman far inferior to him, as he managed to curb the mistress habit.

I cannot say if this is a good biography for an expert on the subject, but as a beginner, I feel like this book is a great place to begin. There are so many people in this great cast of characters over the 72 years of Louis’ reign and total transformation of France. Direct descendants are still walking around today, spread into major European families, cementing Louis’ place in history.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves” by Heather R. Darsie

Anna was the ‘last woman standing’ of Henry VIII’s wives ‒ and the only one buried in Westminster Abbey. How did she manage it?

Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ looks at Anna from a new perspective, as a woman from the Holy Roman Empire and not as a woman living almost by accident in England. Starting with what Anna’s life as a child and young woman was like, the author describes the climate of the Cleves court, and the achievements of Anna’s siblings. It looks at the political issues on the Continent that transformed Anna’s native land of Cleves ‒ notably the court of Anna’s brother-in-law, and its influence on Lutheranism ‒ and Anna’s blighted marriage. Finally, Heather Darsie explores ways in which Anna influenced her step-daughters Elizabeth and Mary, and the evidence of their good relationships with her.

Was the Duchess Anna in fact a political refugee, supported by Henry VIII? Was she a role model for Elizabeth I? Why was the marriage doomed from the outset? By returning to the primary sources and visiting archives and museums all over Europe (the author is fluent in German, and proficient in French and Spanish) a very different figure emerges to the ‘Flanders Mare’.

Cover and blurb via Amberley

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There is a piece of fiction out right now, which suggests that Henry VIII was right, Anna of Cleves was no virgin. I will not be reviewing that work, as I only publish five-star reviews, and leave the rest in privacy. Instead, I am here to show you THE book on Anna of Cleves, a piece of written beauty.

Anna of Cleves starts out with a look at Anna’s childhood, her family, its history, and life in Germany at the time. The book has researched German life and child-rearing for those in Anna’s rich position. No music, dancing and sewing days for Anna – girls were taught by women to learn finance, in order to run a home worth of a duchy. Yes, Anna could sew, with her fine embroidery and needlework on clothing, but could also read, write, understand money and German customs, values and politics. While all that is great, Anna learnt a German way of life, and the German language, one of her original problems in England.

The book tells us of Anna’s early life, rather than only focusing on her once she was purchased as a queen. The Cleves Court was an intriguing place, with a wholly different look at politics and customs of the time period. Without giving away spoilers, the stark difference between Germany and England shows just how much Anna had to go through upon her marriage and carefully negotiated life.

Germany, of course, was in the process of the Reformation, leaning Protestant, just how my personal beloved Thomas Cromwell wanted for England. Between the changes of Germany and the power still held by the Holy Roman Empire at the time, Anna marrying into England would have massive repercussions, and as someone who had to write the death of Thomas Cromwell, the book was an immense eye-opener on how Anna of Cleves’ marriage brought down England’s greatest minister of all time.  The situation was never as simple as Henry thinking Anna was ugly. No spoilers, but damn!!!

Anna of Cleves is an extraordinary woman. She managed to survive an annulment from Henry after only a few months (and didn’t have to sleep with him), and became the king’s ‘sister.’ Anna made friends with the grandest of women in England, Henry’s daughters Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth, and also the exciting Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. Anna managed all this in England, living a longer life than any other Henry wife, but never had to let go of who she was.  It has been a long time since I found a book with so much new information; we just needed to wait for Darsie to deliver such brilliance. History has relegated Anna to a role of being the ugly foreign wife Cromwell brought to England. A woman so repulsive Henry became impotent (though, come on, none of us ever believed that was her fault). A woman married for an alliance not wanted or needed, and disposed of for a pretty teenager. Anna was beautiful, educated, kind, clever and resourceful. Thank you for this wonderful book!

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: “The Mythology of the Princes in the Tower” by John Ashdown-Hill

 

When did the term ‘Princes in the Tower’ come into usage, who invented it, and to whom did it refer? To the general public the term is synonymous with the supposedly murdered boy King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, sons of Edward IV. But were those boys genuinely held against their will in the Tower? Would their mother, Elizabeth Widville, have  released her son Richard from sanctuary with her if she believed she would be putting his life in danger?

The children of Edward IV were declared bastards in 1483 and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was offered the throne. But after Bosworth, in order to marry their sister Elizabeth of York, Henry VII needed to make her legitimate again. If the boys were alive at that time then Edward V would once again have become the rightful king.

Following the discovery of some bones in the Tower in 1674 they were interred in a marble urn in Westminster Abbey as the remains of the two sons of Edward IV. What evidence exists, or existed at the time, to prove these indeed were the remains of two 15th-century male children? What did the 1933 urn opening reveal?

John Ashdown-Hill is uniquely placed to answer these questions. By working with geneticists and scientists, and exploring the mtDNA haplogroup of the living all-female-line collateral descendant of the brothers, he questions the orthodoxy and strips away the myths. New revelations about one of the most enduring, most popular stories in British history, which will provoke controversy and generate huge interest in the media.

Cover and blurb via Amberley

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We all know the stories of the Princes in the Tower, so why another book? Because we can’t get enough! DUH! This book isn’t about the princes and their deaths or survival (read Matthew Lewis’ The Survival of the Princes of the Tower for that), rather about how DNA could at least clear Richard III’s name.

It’s only been a few years since we all put in a few £££ and dug up our dear Richard III, but his name is still mud when it comes to the Princes in the Tower (thanks, Shakespeare!). But DNA analysis came in helpful in the discovery of Richard III, and maybe now we could use it on the Princes in the the Tower too.

The Princes’ bones are in an urn in Westminster Abbey, or at least the bones of two children found roughly where they thought the dead princes would be. If the bones could be tested for their DNA and matched with a living relative, the bones’ identity would be secure. There is now a direct relative, as this book tells us, when Glen Moran studied the genealogy in 2017 to discover opera star Elizabeth Roberts is directly linked to the Princes’ grandmother.

This book focuses on how we can clear Richard’s name. Perhaps Richard did have them killed, or maybe they never died at all. If the DNA testing of the urn bones does not match, it means those princes went on to live longer than Richard himself.

The book goes on to talk about the burial of Perkin Warcbeck, who famously believed himself to be Prince Richard of York. Warbeck was buried at the London Dutch Church, which was bombed in WWII. For the rebuild, the skeletons in the church were cremated and container-stacked. But perhaps Warbeck’s body remains in the ground, as it is now believed that not all bodies were uncovered. This book talks more on how Warbeck can/should be tested against Elizabeth Roberts.

But there is more. The books tells us about a possible skeleton of Prince Edward at Chelsea Old Church, a possible Prince Richard at St Mary’s Chruch in Kent, and even a possible Prince Richard in Belgium’s Mechelen Cathedral (a whole story in itself). Now that Elizabeth Roberts has been found, all of these possibilities open up the final resting place of the boys, and Richard’s innocence.

No book can answer the great questions, not until Westminster Abbey relents on DNA testing, likewise the bodies at other churches. But with the discovery of a relative, the path is getting ever clearer.

RIP John Ashdown-Hill

(PS just because Richard didn’t kill those boys doesn’t mean Margaret Beaufort is the killer either. What is with the constant blackening of her name? UGH)